How to Succeed as a Writer Before the World Ends in 2012

03/01/2012 11:24 GMT | Updated 01/03/2012 10:12 GMT

It's the beginning of another year. Of course, it's the beginning of another year every day, it just depends when you start counting. And calenders are flexible: the government of Samoa recently realigned its time zone status by removing a whole day from their calendar. And if they don't want it, I could really use it around the middle of next week. I'll take it off their hands for free and even collect it. Meanwhile, what follows are not New Year's resolutions, they are a writer's determinations which happen to be made at this time of year.


Follow a disciplined schedule.

Routine is the key. Each morning I will be at my desk by nine. After that I will waste my day according to a rigid timetable. 9 to 9.30: sharpen pencils. 9.30 to 9.31: remember that I don't use pencils and open computer. 9.35 to 10.00: move files around on computer. 10 to 12.30: online research (if I can unlock the parental control that my young son has placed on my computer in retaliation for what he calls my infringement of his basic human right to play video games all night). 12.30 to 2.30: lunch. And so on. I'll be avoiding work, but I'll be avoiding it at regular hours.

Accept that a screenplay is a collaboration.

I will value the creative input of producers, script editors, development people, and anyone else who thinks they can point out where I'm going wrong, including the receptionist and the despatch rider who happens to be delivering a script to her desk while I'm in the lobby waiting for the person I have an appointment with to remember I exist. I will accept that film executives are not ignorant philistines (in meetings, repeat this to yourself while squeezing a tennis ball in your pocket). They simply want to improve my script, in the same way that a heretic is improved by being burned at the stake. Screenwriting is a collaborative craft, in which everyone gets a chance to fuck your script up.

Complete a full first draft of whatever I'm writing before I start rewriting it.

I will no longer begin each day's work on whatever I'm writing by going back over everything I've written so far and obsessively tinkering with it and only writing a little bit of new stuff which I then rewrite the next day along with everything else that I've written so far, thus writing an ever-decreasing amount of new stuff each day. Unfortunately it's taken me eleven days to write this paragraph, because each time I start work on this article I go back to the beginning and rewrite everything I've written so far, including this sentence, which I am now rewriting.

Stop sending things to The New Yorker in the utterly futile hope that they'll ever publish something by someone they haven't published before.

I've looked into this, and it's a question of quantum physics. Basically, the New Yorker exists in a loop in the space-time continuum, where if you're being published, you've always been published, and always will be published. The only exceptions are cartoons featuring Schrödinger's cat, which are both published and rejected simultaneously, depending on whether anyone looks at them.

Be polite to people who've got all these great ideas, which they're sure I could use, because they're much better than all the crap on TV, and they'd do it themselves if they had the time, but, hey, they'll give me the ideas and I can write them, and if I make a ton of money out of them, we'll split it, okay? There's this brilliant one about a vampire who works in a dry cleaners...

Or I could just not tell them I'm a writer in the first place. I could say I run a chain of aquarium supply shops. But on no account tell them what I really think of them and their ideas. I'm getting too old to have any more fist fights.

And be polite to people who ask where writers get their ideas from, and not point out that it's probably the most stupid question anyone could think of.

For the same reason, basically.

Stop tormenting cold callers.

When you work from home any distraction is welcome. When a nice person phones me from India, hoping to sell Mr Davies something, I like to perform a short audio play. I ask the caller to hold, walk across the room, and conduct a violent, obscene argument with myself in different voices. After a few minutes I return to the phone and say that Mr Davies is adjusting to new medication and wants the caller to describe their underwear. I like to think it brightens up their day.

Not drink alcohol before 6 pm

Except when strictly necessary for professional reasons. If a producer or a publisher takes you to lunch (just because it's never happened yet doesn't mean it never will) it would be rude to decline a glass of wine. Or if a fellow writer drops by to celebrate selling his novel or screenplay, how can you refuse to share the bottle of champagne he's brought? You'll need a drink, anyway, so you can pretend to be happy and not kill him. And we're not talking about weekends, obviously. Sunday lunch in a pub would be ridiculous without a drink. And if these delightful occasions stretch through the afternoon, what could be more civilised? Fine wine, good company, stimulating conversation leading, perhaps, to a spirited expression of controversial views, then a little light-hearted banter with the police as they playfully throw you in the back of the van.

Write less fattening scripts.

I've no idea what that means. Sorry, I must have come up with that one after one of those lunches I was just talking about.

Give away all my possessions and become a missionary.

Doesn't sound likely, does it? Unfortunately, it's just as likely as any of the others.

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